Mountain View Voice

News - June 5, 2009

Council decides on 'less painful' cuts

Task of balancing budget could lead to more difficult decisions next year

by Daniel DeBolt

With some adjustments, the Mountain View City Council supported most of the general fund budget as recommended by the city manager Tuesday night.

Facing a $6 million deficit, the council made $4 million in cuts to parks maintenance, city planning, street maintenance, code enforcement, public works staff and library services, among other things. The council used $2.2 million in reserves to fill the rest of the gap.

Though the meeting took over three hours, the council appeared relaxed as it did the "horse trading" required to trim the budget, an exercise that was a first for most members.

"I don't want to leave a legacy that we were not able to create sustainable budgets," said council member Jac Siegel.

The general fund budget was cut from almost $90 million to about $86 million. The cut was necessary because tax and other revenues are shrinking while salary costs are on the rise by $3.8 million a year. Historic revenue and budget trends were presented on a graph to show that, without cuts, a budget gap could compound for decades.

"Frankly this budget has little or no margin for error," said city manager Kevin Duggan, who projects minimal "carryover balance" at the end of the year.

"Many safety nets have been removed," he said.

Duggan also reminded council members that the state was probably going to take $2.5 million from the general fund and $1.8 million from the Shoreline community fund within the next year — a fact which was not accounted for and would probably require the use of reserves, which Duggan says could be quickly diminished if spending goes unchecked.

In a straw vote, council members Laura Macias and Margaret Abe-Koga were the only members in favor of temporarily lowering the city's general fund reserve from 25 percent to 24 percent of the general fund so that about $1 million worth of services could be funded.

In a room full of city employees, some of whom spoke about the importance of their jobs as members of the SEIU, the council approved the elimination of 14 positions funded by the general fund, including one librarian position which will be funded until a librarian leaves voluntarily.

Though Macias said it would have "pretty negative effects," the council supported recommendations to eliminate an unfilled parks maintenance position, saving $94,000, which Macias said would be increasingly important as the city cuts contract maintenance for five mini-parks, saving $52,700.

To make some money, Macias proposed that non-residents pay $3 to use Shoreline Park. She said the fee could generate $300,000 a year, but the rest of the council did not support it. Duggan said staff would study the idea.

"Are people going to drive there if it is going to cost $3?" asked council member Mike Kasperzak.

Numerous unfilled administrative positions were cut, the kind "unseen" by the public in places like the library, finance department and employee services. That concerned Roberta Brown, a secretary in the building inspection department and one of several SEIU union members who spoke at the meeting.

"It takes all of us combined to keep the city running smoothly," she said.

In a series of straw votes, the council voted on a series of modifications to Duggan's proposals.

Duggan originally proposed that $4 million in cuts be made, which he called "tier one," while another $4 million in "tier two" cuts were recommended for next year. But the council decided to make some of the tier two cuts early, including a reduction in finance department staff.

The tier two cuts were made mostly so the council could fund a set of "council initiated items" that were not budgeted, including $120,000 for "positive activities for youth," $32,000 for mobile library services at Castro School, $15,000 for the Senior Advisory Task Force and $25,000 for the Police Activities League.

The council also needed to find another $20,000 after deciding that a new fee for youth sports leagues was too high. The council decided to charge only $1 per hour to youth sports leagues for field maintenance, rather than the recommended $2, which makes the city $20,000 instead of $40,000.

In a 4-3 vote, the council decided to cut $50,000 from the library collections budget, which is already lower than most cities, according to a study by the library board. Library director Karen Burnette said it would reduce the number of new periodicals, books and other media the library could buy.

The council had a serious discussion about making the city newsletter The View an online-only publication, saving $15,000, but opted against it after members said that older residents relied on it.

Though it wasn't recommended by city staff, the council found $150,000 by cutting in half the funding for a "succession planning" program used for training the city's future managers. Much of the city's current management is expected to retire in the next few years.

E-mail Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

Comments

Posted by WilliamJoseph, a resident of Shoreline West
on Jun 7, 2009 at 11:45 pm

"city employees ... spoke about the importance of their jobs as members of the SEIU"
What does SEIU membership have to do with city jobs?
Unions exist to provide their members with a comfortable living with annual increases, job security, pensions, fringe benefits, etc. at the expense of taxpayers or shareholders.
The city jobs exist because there is work to be done, not because the employees are owed a living.


Posted by Sue, a resident of another community
on Jun 10, 2009 at 2:25 pm

How much does city council get paid? Where are their cuts? Did I miss that in the article?


Posted by eric, a resident of another community
on Jun 10, 2009 at 4:09 pm

You want to cut their $500 a month "salary"? Seriously?


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